Young leaders of agriculture tour area
WORTHINGTON -- In its first visit to southwest Minnesota, the Minnesota Ag Ambassador Institute brought 45 young men and women to Jackson and Nobles counties earlier this week to learn tips to better communicate the positive message of agriculture.
The group gathered Tuesday evening at the Matt and Teresa Widboom farm north of Worthington for a grilled steak supper and an opportunity to mingle with political leaders and representatives from a variety of farm organizations.
In its 18th year, the institute brings together young people from across the state for workshops covering everything from creating a good first impression to developing an effective message and making a difference. On Tuesday, the second day of the program, the group toured AGCO and Ziegler Ag Equipment in Jackson and JBS in Worthington.
Robin Kinney, executive director of federation services for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, developed the ambassador institute while working as a farm broadcaster for the Linder Farm Network. At the time, she'd been asked to lead media training and communications workshops for young people selected to represent commodity organizations, such as beef queens, pork ambassadors and dairy princesses.
Today, the program also reaches out to 'Agvocates' for the state's corn and soybean grower associations, as well as interns in various ag industries.
Libby Mills of Lake City is one of 12 young women named a finalist for the 2013 Princess Kay of the Milky Way. After learning of the "prestigious opportunity to learn about leadership," she signed up for this year's institute.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to reach out and meet other people," said Mills, who grew up in the dairy industry and will be a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities this fall. "It's been really rewarding to meet with and talk to other people my age who are very involved in agriculture."
Brandon LeBrun of Adrian and Kristi Schaffer of Brandon, near Alexandria, were both sent to the institute by their employer, Wakefield Farms, a pork production business based at Gaylord. Each is completing an internship with Wakefield this summer.
"I've learned a lot about getting the message of agriculture out to people," said LeBrun, a graduate of Minnesota West Community and Technical College's ag production program. He's hoping his summer internship will lead to a full-time job with Wakefield.
Schaffer, on the other hand, will be a senior at North Dakota State University this fall. Her internship encompasses learning more about the company's sow, gestation and farrowing units, as well as marketing and human resources duties.
"(Wakefield) sent us here to meet and network with the people they work with on a daily basis," she said. "It's just been a really neat experience."
New Fashion Pork at Jackson also sent several of their summer interns through the institute, including Ashley Greff of Roland, Iowa, and Caitlin Hupp of Cedar Rapids, Neb.
Greff is already learning the importance of being a vocal advocate for agriculture.
"The farmers know what's right for their animals because they're in the barns every day or in the feedlots," she said.
Greff didn't grow up on a farm, but was always active in her grandparents' hog operation. As a senior at Iowa State University majoring in swine production, she hopes to build her career in the pork industry.
Hupp, who was raised on a diversified ag operation in Nebraska, appreciated the opportunities the institute offered to connect with movers and shakers in the agriculture industry.
"It's really nice to see all the people on the checkoff boards and how much effort they put into educating the younger generations," she said. "There are a lot of people speaking against (agriculture), and it's time for us to put in a positive word for agriculture."
The Minnesota Ag Ambassador Institute is a non-profit organization that relies on sponsorships from business and industry to support the three-day program each year. At this time, participants do not need to apply for the program, although it is limited to just 50 people.
"Anyone can come if they can commit to the three days," Kinney said. "They may not end up in agriculture, but they can always advocate for it."
Karen Richter, president of the National Pork Board and a pork producer from Montgomery, was among the individuals on hand to speak with institute participants Tuesday night.
"My main message to them is to get involved and stay involved," Richter said. "We continue to tell people what we do, how we do it and why we do it, and it's so important to securing the agriculture industry's future for this country."
Also speaking to the group Tuesday evening were District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, Minnesota Pork Producers Association Executive Director David Preisler, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Executive Director Tom Slunecka and Randy Gettle of Farm Intelligence.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.